Unexpected Reminders

It’s impossible to forget – no matter how I try to stash it behind me.  Staying in the past is just not cancer’s thing.  Paranoia and upcoming appointments push it from the shadows. I accept that.  It comes with the territory.  I get it, but what I’m discovering a lot lately is unexpected reminders.

Reminders I don’t see coming.  Those that hit like a stomach punch bringing up memories I’d rather not recall and thoughts, I’d rather escape.

I’m learning television and movies love nothing more than a sad storyline and what’s more tragic than a mother with cancer?  Like last night’s episode of Mad Men.  If you’re a fan and haven’t seen it yet, beware, spoiler alert.

We see Betty, Don’s ex-wife and mother of his three young children looking a bit heavy.  Still gorgeous, just carrying a few extra pounds.  This is attributed to real life pregnancy, but since she’s not with child in the plot, the writers choose to put her through a cancer scare.

I didn’t see that coming.

She gets sent for a biopsy where she runs into an old friend with cancer, we assume. The word is never said, but she’s there for radiation treatment.  They speak of what it’s like for this woman, this mother.  How she feels she’s sinking into the ocean, alone, then suddenly remembers something her family needs, some housework, everyday stuff, but the underlying, accepted, message of the conversation is she’ll die.

Don’s new wife starts talking about taking in his kids, but he cuts her off.  Later, he admits he can’t imagine his children without their mother.

Lines of dialogue that hit extremely close to home.

My husband and I watch together in the quiet of our bedroom.  The air thick with words unspoken.  No need to say anything.  Our thoughts are coming to life on the screen.

Then Betty receives her call…benign.  Her new husband said he felt he’d been given a gift after imagining the worst.  All the what might have beens and is relieved everything is fine.

Life as they know it will go on.

It sure makes for compelling television, but had I known, I might have chosen not to watch.  Like if I’d known the outcome that day nearly three years ago — maybe I wouldn’t have answered my phone, believing in a better ending.  

We didn’t get a call like Betty’s.  Ours, went another way, produced a different script. We get to live with the fear of children growing up without their mother, a husband losing his wife.

There was no choice for me that day.  I picked up the phone and heard the words, “You have…”.

From that point words didn’t matter.  Everything had changed.

I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid this literally phenomenon of tragic illness.  It’s prevalent because it’s relatable, emotional.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s someone else’s story, in some fictional life.  Even so, it touches me.  Looking away or turning it off doesn’t change my reality.  My story remains the same and sometimes, I don’t want to see it played out on television or reminded of it when I least expect it.

How do you feel about TV shows and movies showing women, mothers especially, with cancer?  Can you watch?

8 thoughts on “Unexpected Reminders

  1. Sigh. I can so relate to this, Stacey. Honestly? I haven't watched any of the obvious shows or gone to any of the movies about cancer. It's hard enough for me to read a new blog by yet another woman who's joined the Club. Plus, I see patients every work day. And some of them have cancer. And some of that cancer is breast cancer. And some of them die. I already feel over-steeped in reality sometimes. That's why I don't watch medical drama shows either. Actually, I don't really watch TV at all anymore.I end up needing to read novels & watch movies that I KNOW are not going to be about cancer. But even then, sometimes, it creeps in…


  2. Stacey, I had a hard time with that episode, too. And, my opinion….. she lied. I think she got bad news on the phone and chose to lie to her husband. I watched her face very carefully. And we rewatched it tonight. My son watches the show and didn't see it last night. I paid extra attention this time. But then, I may just be hypersensitive to Bad News….xoxox


  3. Stacey, an excellent post on a topic that's near and dear to my heart: the watching of shows and movies with a cancer plot line. Frankly, I have to shelter myself from disturbing shows because I get too upset. Too many reminders, as you say. I don't know if you watch Desperate Housewives, but a few years ago, Lynette, a mom of four then, had cancer. And it was very realistic; I cried. But then she was \”healed\” and the part of the show I didn't like was they never showed her paranoia again. It was over and done with. No more cancer mentioned. I guess if the plot had Lynette really paranoid and fearful about the cancer years afterward, it wouldn't make good TV.


  4. Hi Kathi, it seems we're very popular for all the wrong reasons. I don't mind the storylines so much if I choose to see it, which like you, is rare. I hate when it takes me by surprise and sucks all the air from the room. It's hard to escape. Thanks for writing. Xoxo


  5. AnneMarie, you may be right about Betty lying, but that would suck. I don't know if I'll be able to watch then. I don't want to see that! I know what you mean about bad news. If it could happen to us, then it could happen to anyone and I kind of expect it to, but watching it is another thing. Thanks for your comment of this.


  6. Hi Beth, I used to watch Desperate Housewives, but stopped right around that season with Lynette. I remember being annoyed by that plot line. I felt it was thrown in there for not good reason, just for \”drama.\”. You're very right about the aftermath of diagnosis and treatment being left out. Did you watch Sex and the City? Once Samantha completed treatment it was rarely mentioned again. Where was her worry? Her fear of the future? It was shown as, cancer done, put away never to be seen again. Not our reality. Thanks for writing.


  7. Stacey,Another great post. My husband and I actually sort of \”joke\” about this now. It seems there are so many instances where the wife has died…This plot line seems to be an easy way to generate emotion and I get that, but sometimes it is a bit much. I agree. Like Beth, I watched that season of Desperate Housewives, too, and thought the same thing. When Lynette's cancer was \”over and done with,\” it was \”over and done with.\” Not my reality, or yours either, I know. As for Madmen, I've never watched it, but keep hearing good things, so I may have to tune in sometime. This past Sunday hubby and I were tuned into \”Game of Thrones.\” Fantasy has its advantages I guess!


  8. Thanks, Nancy, for your thoughts on this. It is almost funny to see this storyline pop up so often. I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. I don't know if any show could actually represent what we truly feel. My husband and I love Game of Thrones, too. But, watch, one day, someone there will have \”female\” troubles and you'll know where they're going with it.


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